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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
Acts 11

 

 

Verses 1-30


The First Gentile Church

1-18. The baptism of Cornelius discussed and approved at Jerusalem. Those Christians who maintained the need of observing the Ceremonial Law did not attack the baptism itself because, although they disliked it, our Lord's command to baptise all nations was too definite to be questioned. They attacked, therefore, St. Peter's undoubted breach of Jewish law and custom: 'Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them' (Acts 11:3). What they apparently desired was, that if Gentiles were baptised at all, they should be regarded as an inferior class, and not allowed to eat at the same table with their Jewish superiors: cp. Galatians 2:12. Peter did not discuss the general principle, but defended himself on the ground that he had received a special revelation authorising, and indeed commanding, him to act as he did in this particular case.

2. They that were of the circumcision] This may either mean the whole Church of Jerusalem in contrast with Cornelius and his friends, or the Judaising party in that Church which, perhaps, already existed, as it certainly did some years later (Acts 15:1, Acts 15:5).

18. The Church of Jerusalem unanimously endorsed Peter's action, doubtless because the case was an exceptional one, and was not likely to become a precedent. When St. Paul made a practice of doing what St. Peter had only done as a rare exception, the controversy was revived (Acts 15).


Verse 19


The Church in Antioch, 35-47 a.d. (
Acts 11:19 to Acts 13:3)

19-26. Extension of the Church to Antioch. Admission of Gentile members. Antioch in N. Syria ranked next to Alexandria, as the third city in the Roman empire. It was beautifully situated on the Orontes, about 15 m. from the sea. Its port was Seleucia. The bulk of the population was Syrian by race, but the language and culture were Greek. There were also numerous Jews, who had gathered round their synagogues a remarkable number of proselytes. Antioch was the capital of the province of Syria, and the seat of the Roman governor, so that here Christianity came into contact for the first time with Greek and Roman civilisation. Antioch remained a great Christian centre: among its honoured names were Ignatius and Chrysostom: its school of theology and exegesis was famous, and its bishop was one of the four patriarchs. Here Christianity was first preached on any large scale to Gentiles (see on Acts 11:20). It is probable, however, that most of them were, like Cornelius, in some way attached to the synagogue. St. Paul seems to have been the first to appeal to Gentiles pure and simple: see Acts 14:27.

19. The narrative goes back to Acts 8:1, to trace the chain of causation which led to the foundation of the first great Gentile Church. Christianity, it will be seen, spread along the great trade routes both by land and sea. Phenice] i.e. Phœnicia.

20. Men of Cyprus and Cyrene] these would be Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews), and therefore presumably more liberal in their views than Hebrews. To these unnamed Cyprians and Cyrenians belongs the credit of first preaching systematically to Gentiles. Spake unto the Grecians] i.e. to the Greek-speaking Jews. So the AV. But the context plainly requires 'spake unto the Greeks' (i.e. unto the Gentiles), and thisreading is adopted by the RV.

22. The Church of Jerusalem on hearing the news acted with commendable self-restraint. They did not hastily condemn the new departure, little as they liked it, but sent a trustworthy person, Barnabas, to examine into the circumstances upon the spot, and to report.

23. Barnabas, after carefully observing the results of the policy, approved it (was glad), and exhorted them all (i.e. both Jews and Gentiles) to persevere in their profession of faith, and to form one united Church. Barnabas thus anticipated Paul in sanctioning the principle of Gentile equality, which involved eating with Gentiles (Galatians 2:12), and it was because Paul was likely to be in sympathy with such a policy, that Barnabas summoned him to Antioch.

26. Christians] The giving of this name marked the recognition of the fact that 'the Way' was something more than a new Jewish sect. The inclusion of numerous Gentiles within the Church, and that without their becoming Jews, and the preaching of Jesus as one whose authority was superior to that of Moses, gave complete justification to those who saw in Christianity a new religion. The form of the word is Latin, so that it may have originated in the Latin-speaking court of the Roman governor. At any rate, the name was not invented by the Jews, who did not admit that Jesus was 'the Christ' (Messiah). In 64 a.d. Tacitus mentions that the name was in use among the common people at Rome. In the 2nd cent, a corrupted form, 'Chrestians,' lit. 'the good people,' was sometimes used.

27-30. The Church of Antioch succours the Church of Jerusalem in time of famine.

27. Friendly-relations clearly prevailed between Jerusalem and Antioch, the former Church sending accredited prophets and teachers to Antioch to assist in the work of evangelisation. Prophets] The gift of prophecy specially distinguished the apostolic from the subapostolic and later ages. It was widely diffused, being exercised by private Christians, and even by women in the Church assemblies (1 Corinthians 14:1). Generally it took the form of inspired exhortation or instruction, but was sometimes predictive. The official prophets, who were recognised as possessing the gift to the fullest extent (e.g. Agabus, Barnabas, Symeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, Judas, and Silas, see Acts 13:1; Acts 15:32; Acts 21:10) ranked next to the Apostles, and were regarded with them as the foundation upon which the Church was built (Ephesians 2:20). The chief product of Christian prophecy is the inspired NT.

Unto Antioch] The Bezan text here adds: 'And there was much gladness. And when we were gathered together, one of them named Agabus spake [and signified, etc.].' This reading, which seems trustworthy, confirms the tradition that St. Luke belonged to Antioch, and was one of the early converts there.

28. Agabus] see Acts 21:10. Great dearth throughout all the world] There was a severe famine in the fourth year of Claudius, 45 a.d., which affected both Judæa and Greece. To this St. Luke probably refers. Claudius] reigned from 41-54 a.d. The prophecy of Agabus was perhaps delivered in 44 a.d.

30. The elders] lit. 'presbyters.' These officers are here mentioned for the first time. All the Apostolic Churches were governed by presbyters (Acts 14:23), or, as they were sometimes called at first, bishops (Acts 20:28 : cp. Philippians 1:1). The presbyters ranked next to the apostles and above the deacons. On them devolved (under the apostles) the government and pastoral care of the Church. They visited and anointed the sick, and entertained strangers (see James 5:14). The more learned of them laboured in the word and teaching, and such were held worthy of double honour (1 Timothy 5:18). They did not exercise what is now called episcopal authority. This was reserved to the apostles and apostolic men. They were essentially local officers. There were several in one Church, and they formed one body or 'college' (the presbytery, 1 Timothy 4:14). Government by presbyters was adopted by the Church from the Synagogue. Jewish synagogues were governed by a body of presbyters at the head of whom was an officer called 'the ruler of the synagogue.' Many think that in Christian Churches also the leading presbyter had from the first a special position, similar to that of St. James at Jerusalem, and that towards the close of the apostolic age the title 'bishop,' at first applied to all presbyters indiscriminately, began to be restricted to him (see Intro, to Pastoral Epistles, notes on 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7).

The usual view is that this visit of St. Paul to Jerusalem is nowhere else alluded to, being passed over in silence in the Epistle to the Galatians. But the writer's own view is that this visit is that mentioned Galatians 2:1-10. See on Acts 15

 


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Acts 11:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/acts-11.html. 1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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